Monday

21st May 2018

Pro-EU rhetoric amid crackdown in Turkey election

  • June vote to concentrate power in Erdogan's office (Photo: Erik de Haan)

Turkey still aims to join the EU, its authoritarian leader has said, in an election campaign marred by censorship and judicial attacks on opponents.

"We have absolutely not given up our objective of full membership of the European Union, even if we have not seen the same determination and desire recently from our interlocutors," Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a rally in Istanbul on Sunday (6 May).

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  • Failed coup saw Erdogan detain tens of thousands of people (Photo: Reuters)

The hard man promised to extend military operations against Kurdish groups in Syria.

"Turkey will launch additional offensives like Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations to clear its border of terror organisations in the new era," he said.

He pledged to make Turkey into a "global power" that would, in future, manufacture all its own weapons.

He also pledged to bring down inflation and bring back foreign investors.

"Turkey's goal is to have 100 percent indigenously-made land, air, and sea defence systems. We will continue to produce our own weapons to become a global power," he said.

"The Turkish economy will be more resistant to outer shocks and financial blows. Turkey will be even more attractive to investors," he added.

His speech comes amid EU concerns that the upcoming election, on 24 June, will move Turkey further away from the democratic norms at the heart of EU entry criteria by altering the country's constitution and concentrating too much power in his presidential office.

Those norms have already come under attack in Erdogan's purge after a failed coup in 2016, which saw him jail over 150,000 people, including 192 journalists, and which saw the EU freeze membership talks in response.

The election campaign, which is taking place under an ongoing state of emergency, has highlighted the same problems despite Erdogan's pro-EU rhetoric.

One of his opponents, Muharrem Ince, a secularist candidate, complained on Sunday that state media gave blanket coverage to Erdogan's 70-minute long speech but did not show a single moment of his own campaign rally earlier the same weekend.

"If the media embargo against the opposition at the orders of the palace continues, we will hold our rallies outside TV channels," he said.

Meanwhile, another leading contender against Erodgan's AKP party, Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, is in jail awaiting a pre-June conviction that will likely see him banned from running.

A fair vote was "impossible" under Erdogan, Demirtas told the Reuters news agency in a hand-written note from prison that was handed over by his lawyer.

"Demonstrations are banned, talking is banned, criticising the government is banned, even defending peace is considered terrorist propaganda," he said.

"Hundreds of opposition journalists are arrested, dozens of TV and radio channels are closed," he added.

"It is impossible for there to be fair elections in such an environment," Demirtas said.

Turkey's prosperity has underpinned Erdogan's popularity in recent years, but his comments also highlighted his weak spot - its fragile economy.

His meddling with Turkey's interest rates against the advice of his own central bank has seen Turkish inflation top 10 percent this year, with a sharp spike in food prices.

His worsening US ties have seen the value of the lira go down by more than 10 percent against the dollar in a trend set to continue if Turkish courts jail Andrew Brunson, a US pastor accused of having played a role in the failed coup, in a verdict expected on Monday.

Foreign investment also fell by almost 20 percent last year in an economy in which over 70 percent of non-lira, outside capital comes from the EU.

"Under the currently prevailing circumstances, no new chapters are considered for opening," in EU-Turkey accession talks, the European Commission said in a report in April despite Erdogan's recent pro-EU turn.

Turkey "continues to take huge strides away from the EU, in particular in the areas of rule of law and fundamental rights", the commission also said.

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